THE scourge of social isolation is being aggravated by a lack of appropriate activities for elderly people, a meeting has heard.

Darlington Borough Council members were told while concerted efforts were continuing to attract elderly residents to join a variety of community organisations, there was a high drop-out rate due to people being directed to groups not suited to them.

The authority’s health and partnerships scrutiny committee heard social isolation was being prioritised as an issue in Darlington as research evidence was growing about its link to physical as well as mental health.

Last year, the American Psychological Association concluded social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity, and its impact will continue to grow.

The committee heard as organisations such as working men’s clubs declined, it was becoming increasingly important to bolster alternative social opportunities.

Strengthening connections in communities was said to be key to improving the health and wellbeing of individuals.

Jill Foggin, of County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, told the meeting the case of her 82-year-old mother, who walked several miles every day, and her similarly active friends highlighted how more opportunities needed to be laid on for pensioners in good physical health.

She said: “Social isolation is the root cause of so many apparent and actual health problems, but it’s about not treating people as old.

“They know that they’re old and most of them are widows, so they have that social isolation, but a lot of the activities are geared to the infirm, rather than the well and healthy older person who wants to treated like somebody of any other age.”

Other members agreed that difficulties in recruiting and retaining elderly people at groups that had been specifically established to counter social isolation were because the activities were not targeted or “too indoors-based”.

Public health principal, Ken Ross, said it had become apparent that informal groups across the borough “come into their own because they don’t have an agenda”.

Councillor Heather Scott said while groups such as the church and Rotary were working to reduce social isolation among many residents, there remained people “for whatever reason we can’t reach”.

She said: “As councillors, when you knock on people’s doors and tell them about it they are very suspicious about trying to be organised to go to things. They’ve got to want to go and families have to encourage them, but that’s not to say we should give up on it. I don’t know what the answer is, but we’ve got to keep plugging away. “